January 30, 2009

SG advocates sexual assault policy reform

Student Government (SG) adopted a resolution this week supporting changes in the University’s sexual assault policy with the hopes the administration will adopt a university-wide protocol that is more navigable for victims of sexual assault.

The resolution supports tenets set out in a petition circulated by the Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP).

In the petition, WGSAP recommended that all cases of sexual assault be addressed through the central office of the dean of students, that members of each disciplinary committee participate in specialized sensitivity training prior to the committee hearing, and that the committee should not consist of any members of the academic department of either the accused or the accuser.

The current sexual assault policy requires the accuser to go to the dean of students of the accused student’s academic division, and the Dean assembles a disciplinary committee composed of faculty from the division.

The petition also calls for the accuser to have the same rights as the accused during the disciplinary procedures, including access to the same materials, the ability to hear the testimony of the accused or any witnesses, the choice of whether or not to have students sitting on the committee, and a right to file a request for the case to be reviewed after the disciplinary committee announces its decision. It also encourages committees to undergo sensitivity training.

WGSAP was formed when three College students were troubled by an incident of sexual assault at the University. They learned about the case from a sexual assault dean on call, who told the students in the hopes that they could bring about a change in sexual policy more effectively than the dean could.

In that case, an alumna of the University, who was allegedly sexually assaulted in the summer of 2007 by a University student, was horrified when faculty members on the disciplinary committee accused her of “asking for it” by getting into a cab with the alleged rapist, according to Bretz.

The problems with the hearing continued as the alumna filed a complaint with the Department of Education, according to Bretz’ account. The former student’s lawyers argued that the hearing was neither “prompt nor equitable” and that her experience had the potential to discourage other students from coming forward through the University.

In late 2007 the University appealed to the Department of Education to drop the case because the woman was not a student at the time of the assault and thus they claimed that she had no legal standing within the University.

Deputy Dean of Students in the University for Student Affairs Martina Munsters, who oversees disciplinary hearings, declined to comment on the details of the case.

“This case highlights a lot of the problems with the policy,” said fourth-year Allison Bretz, who formed WGSAP with fellow fourth-year Aliza Levine and third-year Megan Carlson.

Munsters said there may be legal complications with one tenet of the petition because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law which protects the privacy of student’s educational records. Because everything that occurs in the hearing goes into the student’s academic record, the University may be legally prevented from sharing the requested information with the accuser.

When the policy was last revised in the 2005 to 2006 academic year, faculty opposed unifying the process under the Office of the Dean of Students.

“The faculty admits the students in the graduate programs, so they have a strong sense of immediate involvement in the student’s academic training,” Munsters said. “They felt strongly that any allegation, academic or not, brought against a student was their responsibility, too.”

WGSAP plans on meeting with Munsters Tuesday to discuss the resolution.